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Council intervenes in Supreme Court case that could derail Northern Gateway pipeline

Photo: Council of Canadians lawyer McDade makes his argument to the Supreme Court, video here.

Photo: Council of Canadians lawyer McDade makes his argument to the Supreme Court, video here.

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule tomorrow on the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s claim to 4,400 square kilometres of its traditional territory west of Williams Lake in British Columbia.

The case is challenging a lower court ruling that suggested Aboriginal title could only be defined or recognized for small fragmented areas of land. The Council of Canadians, along with its Williams Lake chapter, has supported the Tsilhqot’in Nation in advancing its case as an intervener. Our submission to the Supreme Court argued for the recognition of title more broadly and liberally, rather than just for isolated pockets of land. Our lawyers noted that it was not appropriate to argue that a broad recognition of title would burden existing non-indigenous interests.

The Globe and Mail reports, “In 1997, the Supreme Court said in a case known as Delgamuukw v. British Columbia that there is such a thing as aboriginal title – the right to possession of ancestral lands. It goes beyond the right to hunt and fish, and includes the right to benefit economically from the trees, minerals and oil and gas on, or under, the land. But its actual existence on a particular piece of land has never been recognized anywhere in Canada outside of reserves, and the rights it gives the aboriginals who hold it have never been spelled out.”

The news report highlights, “The case could be important for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry bitumen oil from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., and for other development projects wherever aboriginals have not signed away their rights to assert their claims to the land. ….Current law requires that aboriginal groups along its route be consulted and accommodated, but groups that can assert that they have title might have the power to stop the pipeline from going ahead, [Tsilhqot’in lawyer David] Rosenberg said.”

The Vancouver Sun adds, “It is expected to be the first time the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on a specific claim to title, or land property rights, and experts say it could be the most important case in the history of aboriginal rights development in Canada.”

The Council of Canadians was represented at the November 7, 2013 hearing on this case by Ratcliff & Company LLP senior litigation partner Gregory McDade (the founding executive director of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, now Ecojustice) and Matthew Kirchner.

Further reading
Tsilhqot’in Nation asserts Title at Supreme Court of Canada today
Council of Canadians supports Aboriginal title in Supreme Court intervener submission
Supreme Court of Canada to hear Tsilhqot’in challenge with impact on Taseko mine at Fish Lake